FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS, BILL MERRIMAN HAS BEEN THE DEACON AT ST. PATRICK PARISH ON BRIDGE AVENUE IN CLEVELAND, OHIO. HE WAS BORN IN THE SOUTHSIDE OF CHICAGO AND MOVED TO OHIO CITY IN 1969. HE CAME TO BE INVOLVED WITH ST. PATRICK’S THROUGH AN URBAN STUDIES SCHOOL PROGRAM.
For Bill, the parish and the neighborhood present a sense of welcome and respect for those who need service. Deacon Merriman preaches the spirit of hospitality, understanding the importance of linking people together. He wants everyone to be met graciously and with a full welcome, believing that community life is built on relationships and a shared sense of purpose and commitment.
The Kentucky Garden, one of Cleveland’s oldest community gardens located on the near west side of Cleveland in Ohio City, was started in part by Bill 25 years ago. It provides a network for people to get to know each other through their mutual interest in growing food. In Bill’s experience, community gardens help break through barriers and allow neighbors to engage with neighbors they may not have met otherwise.
Bill heard about the ReImagining Cleveland vacant land reuse program and wanted to help his friends, a group of Liberian refugees from the Krahn tribe who arrived here 5 years ago, build a community garden. The refugees remind Bill of “who we all were” – they came here with nothing other than the hope for a better opportunity. In their native country, they were all small farmers and their traditional diet consists of many greens – something that is fairly expensive for struggling new families. Bill wanted to give the refugees the opportunity to become self-sufficient, aiming to create a garden that would pay off for the group nutritionally and financially as they would be able to grow their own food and sell to the community to supplement their income. He also knew it would help build strong relationships within the community.
Kannon Doebo and Daniel Doe, both Liberian refugees with farming experience, worked with Bill to lead a group of 12 Liberian families to develop a 30×130 foot plot into a community garden through the ReImagining Cleveland program. The Liberian-American Community Garden, located on Wakefield Avenue, a few blocks from the Gordon Square Arts District in Detroit Shoreway, was once an unused, undesirable vacant piece of land. Now, with the support of the ReImagining Cleveland program, this land is growing sweet potatoes, collard greens, okra, peppers, eggplants and tomatoes for the community.
Bill commends the ReImagining Cleveland program for recapturing the self-sufficient approach of the past, when orchards and gardens provided fresh produce to the community. He commends Neighborhood Progress for having a “bottomless energy” and being a good steward of resources and advocate for urban groups, stating that Neighborhood Progress is really in touch with the spirit of programs that rebuild cities like Cleveland.
Bill states, “The diversity in the neighborhood and the commitment of the people within the community has given us an experience and expression of the Cleveland area at its best.” His experience with the ReImagining Cleveland program and development of the Liberian-American Community Garden makes him feel that the community is becoming a model of the spirit of Cleveland — different cultures, races, and socioeconomic statuses working through issues and persevering.
Bill is one-of-kind. His passion and dedication make him an enormous asset to Cleveland. He urges people to embrace connection to forge a strong and prosperous community. “Ultimately we have to come home to the core, the source of where we come from, experience communities that are so much like family. Everything you’re looking for is really back home. It is back where we started from. Our lives are of one with the people of the neighborhood.”